In spite of many hours trolling bookstores and online websites, new and beautifully illustrated Halloween books are bone thin this year. Not that they have to be about Halloween per se; no gourds required. What is required is subject matter brewed in mayhem and mystery, with a soupçon of the supernatural. Checking out Lane Smith’s Curious Pages blog, I ran across Dillweed’s Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic, which looked suitably dark. I summoned the book to my doorstep, and found a story that is indeed dark, and funny, and deliciously bent. Perfect.
Young master Dillweed is a child of privilege. Greek statues, a spiral staircase, and all the usual accoutrements of a well-to-do household populate his world, including a mummy and daddy with a taste for adventure and a rather hands-off attitude toward parenting. When his parents pack their suitcases, they leave Dillweed and his beloved reptile Skorped, behind. No adventures. No fun. And to make matters worse, Dillweed is left in the care of the household domestics, Umblud the perpetually soused butler and his terribly unlovely wife, Perfidia. Suitable guardians they most definitely are not, but they do take command of the house and all its contents as if to the manor born, and in the process make life for Dillweed very difficult indeed.
Until the day Dillweed decides to have some fun.
Underneath his bed, Dillweed has a suitcase (specially delivered) containing a few gems, and while they appear to be of the sparkly, precious variety, it turns out they are in fact, receptacles of black magic, unleashing ghoulish spirits into the household. Good for Dillweed, not so good for Umblud and Perfidia, especially after they decide to get rid of Skorped. Excuse me Umblud, are you sure you want to drink from that bottle? And you…Perfidia, Perfidia with the one eyebrow, wouldn’t a ladder be safer? Ah well, what comes around goes around, as mum and dad will soon discover when they too take a disliking to Skorped.
It’s one thing to be abandoned by your parents, or mistreated by the hired help, but don’t…DON’T mess with a boy’s reptile.
Combining deadpan humour and Gorey-esque wickedness, Florence Parry Heide and illustrator Carson Ellis serve up Dillweed’s Revenge with just the right amount of chill, achieving the tastiest of Halloween delectables. The illustrations, like the text, are full of wry wit, employing gouache, ink, and sweater vests to achieve the perfect tone
of button-down psychopathy. Poor Dillweed may not be having any fun, but the reader is, especially when the gruesome ectoplasms come out to play, wreaking havoc with those who have made Dillwood’s life miserable. And really, who hasn’t wished for a suitcase full of guardian ghouls, ready at a moment’s notice to lend a ghostly hand, protect your interests, maybe switch a label or two on a bottle of poison? Or perhaps that’s just me.
Carson Ellis was born in 1975 in Vancouver, Canada. She was raised in suburban New York and college-educated at the University of Montana in Missoula, where she earned a BFA in Painting in 1998. She received a 2010 Silver Medal from the Society of Illustrators for her art in Dillweed’s Revenge. Carson lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband Colin, son Hank, and two cats, Fortinbras and Window.
Florence Parry Heide was born in 1919 in Pittsburgh, PA. She wrote Dillweed’s Revenge with various members of her family in the 1970’s, and while there is no indication whatsoever that it is autobiographical, I would at all costs avoid opening her suitcases, or bothering her pets. Florence has written more than 100 books for children, but her best known works are a series of story books about the curious adventures of a boy named Treehorn, which includes the titles The Shrinking of Treehorn (1971), Treehorn’s Treasure (1981) and Treehorn’s Wish (1986), all of which were illustrated by Edward Gorey. In the absence of Mr Gorey, I can think of no better illustrator for Dillweed’s Revenge than Carson Ellis.
Addendum: Florence Parry Heide passed away on October 25th, 2011 at the age of 92. The fondest of farewells…
Dillweed’s Revenge: A Deadly Dose of Magic was written by Florence Parry Heide, with illustrations by Carson Ellis. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. ISBN: 978-0152063948